On Track

Just over a month of M3 ownership now and I’ve finally had the chance to take it on a track day. It was an open pit lane day run by ClubMSV at Brands Hatch. Track days are usually run in sessions throughout the day, usually grouped by experience with say 20 for novices only, then 20 mins for intermediate and then another session for experienced drivers.

An open pit lane means that anyone can go out whenever they like as long as the track is open. On our day, the track was open from 0930 to 1700 with an hour off for lunch, and we could make whatever use of the track we wanted to during those times.

After registration (filling in forms and showing a drivers license) we had the drivers briefing where we were told what various cones meant, what the different coloured flags meant and how to get in and out of the track to buy petrol and what to do in case of a spin etc. (Stay in the car. Unless it’s on fire in which case feel free to get out and run.) A show of hands showed that out of 27 drivers, only 3 were first timers. (I had done a track day before)

Next came the sighting laps where they took us out in groups of eight at a time to slowly follow a pace car around the track showing us the racing line and get used to driving around Brands Hatch. Sounds a bit pointless, but I found it very useful and it certainly help calm the nerves.

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After the sighting laps we came back in and waited for the track to open. Then it was time. I headed out and did a warm up lap. Once the brave pill took effect and I got my foot down, I found a few things out. Firstly, the brakes are very easy to cook. After my first few hard laps I came in to find smoke pouring from the front discs accompanied by the same metal ‘pinking’ noise that our steam iron makes as it cools down. This apparently is not a good thing and it was suggested that I go for another couple of cooling down laps, which I promptly did.

It turns out that my sense of self preservation is partly to blame for the almost on fire brakes. Apparently track driving requires much more aggressive use of the brake than road use which equates to harder braking for a shorter period of time, which in turns reduces the amount of temperature build up. Being unused to emergency braking at every corner as I was, I was giving in to my subconscious and braking too early and not hard enough. But come on, I was still doing 120mph approaching a sign saying ‘BRAKE!’ followed by a blind apex and then hitting the brake pedal as hard as I though I could without flying backwards into the gravel. On fire.

Which in turn leads onto the rather comforting thing that I found out. I wuss out way before the car reaches its limits. The ABS only cut in once, during my best taking of Druids hairpin all day and the traction control only started kicking in near the end of the day when it was 30C out and the tyres were actually sticky to the touch.

 

Another thing I found out was that it’s surprisingly knackering driving hard and fast. It probably wasn’t helped by the fact it was a very hot day but by the end of the day I was a wreck. And even if I did turn the air con on, the car automatically turns it off when driving hard to ensure maximum power is available – cooool.

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All in all it was a great day out, the car took it all in its stride and it turns out that the weakest part of my car is the driver! (But I think I’ll still invest in some uprated brake pads)

Video
Here’s a video of me doing a couple of laps. I can’t believe how slow it looks! On the second lap I was doing about 120mph at the end of the straight, honest!

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